British Gas pulls out of Charter Mark award

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The Independent Online
British Gas is pulling out of the Charter Mark, the Government- sponsored consumer service standard, it announced yesterday. However, its chief executive Cedric Brown, who has been heavily criticised for his 75 per cent pay rise this year, denied the company was jumping before being pushed.

The move comes amid growing speculation that it would be stripped of the award by the Government after it emerged last month that complaints about its standards of service had hit record levels.

Mr Brown told BBC Breakfast News the decision followed the passing of the Gas Act in Parliament on Wednesday, which will force British Gas to separate its transportation operation from its gas supply business in an attempt to increase competition.

He said: "We think it is appropriate therefore to review the Charter Mark and we have decided that it no longer meets the requirements of the business."

In September Mr Brown issued a public apology to his 18 million customers after a record number of complaints about poor service. Complaints to the Gas Consumers Council reached 24,999 in the first half of 1995, compared with 24,359 during the whole of 1994, prompting speculation that British Gas would be stripped of the Charter Mark.

Labour's consumer affairs spokesman, Nigel Griffiths, yesterday called for an inquiry into "falling levels of service" at British Gas. "It is hard to believe that safety standards are not falling when consumers are complaining in record numbers about the service."

Roger Freeman, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the minister in charge of the scheme, suggested Mr Brown had realised the Charter Mark may not be renewed. "I regret his decision but we did tell British Gas in April that if service to the customer didn't improve then we'd review whether the Charter Mark for British Gas would be renewed."